Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Second-Hand Miracle

I just got off the phone with one of my best friends from college. It was a call a long time coming. He converted from atheism to Christianity about a year ago and I never had the chance to hear his story. I didn’t rush this call for a few reasons. First, I didn’t want him to think I was jumping for the chance to drag him kicking and screaming back to atheism. Second, I didn’t want his pitching of theism to further hurt our already lapsed relationship. And third, and most importantly, I didn’t think religion would take. It did, and after hearing his story, I understand why.

Quick Background

In college, my friend, we’ll call him John, was no saint. He was, however, fairly typical for his age and culture. His great sin was womanizing, most of which took place entirely within his mind. In the four years I knew him, he cycled between only five or six sexual partners while cataloguing every ass of note in our predominately female class. His conversion brings up an interesting question: if a man stops womanizing by becoming a bible-thumper, is that a net positive or negative for our feminism-infused Atheism Plussers? Either way, his origins in atheism had more to do with rejecting the rules of the Bible than disproving it. As technical as John could be, he never cared about science.

John's Testimony

It started when a pair of Christians came to his work place for a little evangelizing. Why were they allowed to make with the missionary? It’s unclear, but it seems like John’s boss is of the same faith. It’s also unclear whether the Christians started talking to John or if John initiated the discussion. They asked him if he was married and he remembered asking (inexplicably and completely out of character) “how could I be the head of the household without Jesus the head of my life.” The guys kept talking but John only picked up on key phrases like “God loves you” and “Jesus loves you.” John started crying on the spot.

John apparently pulled himself back together and went on his way. Not long after, he found himself having a vision in his car--hopefully when he wasn’t driving. John saw himself in a cathedral in front of an alter, completely at peace. When he came out of this dream state, his GPS was operating with navigation in progress. John follows the God-as-Garmin to, you guessed it, a church. He exists his car, wanders around until a church patron informs him their place of worship is currently a trailer--seeing how their church burned down. The vision of the alter didn’t come to pass, but John managed to find a chair facing a cross and got with the kneeling.

In fact, God made him kneel. At points in this journey, John said he felt lead as if someone was holding his hand. This hand allegedly tugged John down to his knees. He claims to have heard God's or Jesus’ voice say “Let me in” and claims to have seen his own demons pass from his body in the form of a husk of his past self--complete with a schizophrenic last attempt to convince him to stick with his scandalous ways.

So yeah... I went into this conversation expecting a story about his mother, who is also a born-again, or his new bride slowly indoctrinating John into the faith. Instead, I got a personal experience that changed my friend to his core overnight. John hadn’t talked to his mom all but a dozen times since he was 14 and had no contact leading into this conversion. His wife was perfectly happy as an atheist--John had to indoctrinate her into the faith before proposing. How do I reconcile this?

Short answer: I don’t. I can’t. I don’t believe his story, but I believe that he believes it. As many times as he has testified this particular miracle, I’m sure he believes it more now then he did the evening of the event--each retelling solidifying the memory--both the real and imaginary aspects. The only bit that can’t be explained by a mental break from reality is the GPS involvement. Was there really a holy ghost in the machine or did John’s yearning for Jesus make him search for “church” on a subconscious level? The later, of course. And yet...if I had a similar experience, Deity Shmeity would have some rebranding to do. After all, if true, this “miracle,” fits my high-standard of conversion.

I felt that I needed to share this even though parts of this story may seem to undermine my naturalistic perspective. You come to your conclusions, I'll come to mine.

An Assessment of John

You’ve heard my assessment of the story, here is my assessment of John. He is entirely sane. While completely convinced, John seemed confused about parts of his own tale. There was often lost time and parts that he didn’t remember. The telling contained more passion than details, but there were plenty of details. Today John is, by his own account, a better man. His porn addiction and alcoholism are no longer a problem...even though I doubt any doctor would have diagnosed either. An addiction is usually classified as such when it interferes with other aspects of one’s life. His girlfriend seemed fine with porn and he was only drunk in my company for obvious drinking occasions. Since he still enjoys an adult beverage on occasion, I doubt he was an alcoholic. Typically, when they quit, they can never drink again without a relapse. Or so I've heard. I’m not a doctor.

To me, the conversion made him better today by retroactively making him worse yesterday. The shame and guilt of Christianity is in full affect. Now every sexual daydream he ever had is equivalent to rape. The sins of the mind might as well be acts. I’d consider it a wash if he now has a higher opinion of women...but I can’t. He replaced objectifying strippers with minimizing the entire role of females. John made it very clear by saying then reiterating that men follow God and women follow the men who follow God.

Message Interference

This is a less important aside, but if there is a God, shouldn’t he want to get this message out? During this half hour conversation with John he lost cell service twice and we both were interrupted by other callers. Did Jesus have hecklers on the Sermon on the Mount? Did the burning bush take a few times to catch? The Bible probably left that part out.


  1. "if a man stops womanizing by becoming a bible-thumper, is that a net positive or negative for our feminism-infused Atheism Plussers?"

    This cracked me up :) For myself, I find it no different than someone improving any other behavior with the help of religion. I hate the method used, but results is results.

    I found your comments about the GPS interesting, largely because I could see myself saying the same thing. For some reason we tend to see evidence from technology as more relevant, but we need to remember we are operating that tech, it is only as reliable as we are. Perhaps as you said, he mindlessly searched for churches and forgot. I was also thinking that perhaps he had it on but it wasn't routing him anywhere and he just noticed a church symbol and went towards it. The story could have morphed in his memory.

    One final question, is there any chance he could have been high at the time? Not that it is necessary to explain things away, but it would help.

  2. Interesting story. I agree that there are many plausible explanations for what happened to John that would not involve miraculous divine intervention. I was thinking along the lines of Haus below...did John just drive by a Church and stop?

    The most interesting thing for me to note is your comment, "The conversion made him better today by retroactively making him worse yesterday." He feels that he is a better person, in large part because he is rejecting parts of his past. This may in fact make him a better person, but may not be an accurate reflection of his past, as you point out. The Christian guilt stigma can run strong.

    You also point out that he has swapped one poor view of women for another poor view of women, so really, that is something of a push.

    I am curious to know if you asked him if he thought that there could be any natural reasons for his conversation that did not require divine intervention and what his response to that was if so. I doubt it would get you far, as you point out, with each retelling of the story, it becomes more "real" to humans seem to be wired that way.

  3. It does seem like God could do a better job at getting the message through, huh? I always thought that it would be an excellent proof of God if no babies ever cried in church, but no such luck...

    I've got a good friend who is, for lack of better terms, an "aimless skeptic." He never liked the theory of evolution. He started chatting with a deeply religious guy from work, and sometime later had an event (which I think was a dream) happen where he was taken to an alternate dimension in the middle of the night and shown a landscape he described as "like from the movie Constantine." He told me that demons and angels were real, but could not quite commit himself to the Bible.

    Years later now, both he and the deeply religious guy from work gave up the thought of God, yet my friend still can't dismiss that strange event that happened to him.

    I hope it's only a matter of a few years before your friend really sees the light...

  4. Actually, this made me remember a similar conversion story I was told many years ago by someone I went to high school with. I think I'll write it down and post it in the next couple of days. Thanks for the memory jog, Grundy!

  5. He wasn't high, just very emotional, which can also cloud your judgement and color your memories.

  6. I haven't had a chance to go over natural explanations yet. I only had 40 minutes to talk and his recounting took the entire time. If something else interesting comes up in later conversations I will likely post about it.

  7. Never "liked" the theory of evolution. Heh. I think that's how a lot of people feel about it. Too bad preference doesn't dictate reality.

  8. The funny thing is, not liking evolution really just shows that you don't understand it. The fact that it explains how we get all this diversity naturally is amazing. I find it hard to believe that anyone could understand how evolution works and not like it.

  9. Fair enough. To be honest, It didn't sound like the conversation was heading in that direction anyway...time for that later, if you choose it. If this person is a good friend, you may never want to push that hard, as it could ruin the friendship.